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Bare Eye

Thank God indeed for Doc Agoncillo

/ 10:40 PM October 31, 2012

KNOWING Doc Agoncillo, he would’ve readily batted for and come to the aid of yet another suffering underdog.

Of course, you don’t know Doc. His name is Ephraim Agoncillo, lean and handsome devoted healer who loved to trace his roots among noble Batanguenos.

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We’ve had unknown soldiers, unsung heroes but, in my book, Doc Agoncillo is a real-life saint who devoted his life helping and healing others, without ever offering to be acknowledged, sung or written about.

“I always have Jesus in my heart in whatever I do,” Doc confided to me one afternoon in his simple tree-shrouded residence off an obscure corner in Del Pan, Makati City.

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* * *

It was maybe my 10th or 15th visit to the physical therapy clinic, years after that emergency first encounter in 1979 when I was rushed there by my mother and youngest sister, Vicky, after I strained a back muscle that had caused severe shortness of breath.

Doc, an acupuncture expert, did not even bring out a single needle. He pressed the hurting area, rubbed on a sweet-scented liniment, massaged my whole back and, in less than five minutes, I was fully restored.

No problem but there was trouble when we tried to offer a fee. Doc refused to cooperate.

This would be the case in all succeeding visits. He took pains to make this hopeless arthritic walk again but he would not take anything in return.

* * *

You see, Doc was a diabetic. He had actually hoped to quit and retire over a decade ago after he reached his late 60s. Sorry, but he could not bear the sight of patients suffering helplessly. Doc Agoncillo was suffering too, but he would not show it. He would struggle, pinching, pulling, kneading, needling, pushing joints and muscles, legs, fingers, everything back to their God-given places.

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In fact, he was so sweet and timid he still found time to make fun of some patients by bringing out a saw and hammer, including a big nail, before letting them lie on his healing couch in a curtained corner of his ground-floor clinic.

As fate would have it, I soon had to accompany suffering friends, crime fighter Ramon Tulfo, the poet-novelist Erwin Castillo, premier painter Danny Dalena, civic worker Mar Maralit, a long line of them over to Doc for treatment.

No problem but, again, Doc vehemently refused anything in return.

For a bonus, sessions were also spiced with bright, spiritually uplifting anecdotes and jokes.

* * *

There was a full-size printed anatomy of the human body framed on the wall, complete with diagrammed acupuncture points. On top of the aparador were native implements, spears and mountain tribe head gears.

The most memorable of course was a framed black-and-white picture of NBA legend Julius Erving, with a fond thank you message to Dr. Agoncillo and signed “Dr. J” in the main reception section.

Skywalker Samboy Lim, once celebrated as a Pinoy Dr. J, was a regular caller.

Asian sprint queen Lydia de Vega had been given special treatment, including joint presses and acupuncture, to boost running power.

There was an endless line of athletes powered, served and healed by Doc.

Of course, he has never even once asked or hinted to be taken in as delegation physician to any international meets. Never. He was, however, always there at their beck and call.

Every now and then, Doc would fly to California for a much-needed break. A son works with the Philippine Airlines.

Has Doc returned, national athletes like Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc would wonder when their fatherly healer would take a little longer to come home.

Then the US sojourn started to take extra long.

Then there was very little heard about the dear missing Doc Agoncillo.

* * *

“Partner I met Dondi Agoncillo, son of Dr. Agoncillo, on the flight home from LA which arrived a while ago,” said an unnamed text message. “He wants very much to talk to you.”

I got Dondi’s number. But there would be no reply to the text message or answer to the calls.

This was the morning of Oct. 16, which fell on my wedding anniversary.

Shortly before lunch, veteran broadcaster Ronnie Nathanielsz, my first boss at radio station dzHP in 1965, called: “I failed to mention it, but Dondi Agoncillo said his father had passed away,” Mr. Ronnie said.

I stood there numb. I held the tragic news from my dear wife.

From what he knew, Ronnie said Doc Agoncillo did come home to die here.

It was suddenly all too late. I refused to cry but tears welled in my eyes.

I profited but was left clutching at the straws of a God-given friendship.

I should’ve at least said goodbye.

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